What’s in a name – how names shape our lives

Recently, we took a look at the most commonly occurring names in our company. After all, in a company of over 12,000 employees, there are bound to be some repeats.

Top Traditionally Male NameTop Traditionally Female Name
1. Michael
2. John
3. Robert
4. Joseph
5. James
1. Nicole
2. Lisa
3. Linda
4. Jennifer
5. Patricia

The results are in: Michael and Nicole are the most common traditional names here at PSEG. Along with the name survey results, we asked our employees: “What’s your name story?”. Continue reading to learn how their names  – whether common or unique – shape their experiences.

A parents’ journey

Labor Relations Manager Linda Le correctly guessed that Nicole is one of the most common traditionally-female names at PSEG, and also knew that John and Michael would be common names. She went with John, as did most employees who took our poll, yet Michael is the name shared by 4.5% of all PSEG employees.

“I work with a lot of people and I talk to a lot of Michaels, Johns and Nicoles,” Le said.

Linda Le

Linda’s name is also among the top 5 traditionally-female names at PSEG, yet her story is rather unique. When her parents migrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1979, they didn’t speak English so they asked her aunt, her father’s sister who had married a Marine and moved to the U.S. before them, to name her elder sister, Ly (pronounced “lee”).

By the time she was born, in 1983, her parents had learned that Linda means beautiful in Spanish and chose that name for her. Her younger sister was named Lynn, and all three sisters have their mom’s maiden name, Tran, as a middle name. With similar names, the same initials, and others wanting to use an English pronunciation of their last name, things became somewhat confusing in school.

“Our small school in Bound Brook, New Jersey, went from 7th to 12th grade, so we were all in school together and became known as ‘The Sisters Lee,’” Le said, noting that the correct pronunciation of her last name is actually “lay.” Her family’s story also involves danger, mystery and intrigue – with her father first arriving as a “boat person” who was sent to a refugee camp – all details you can find out in starting a conversation about her name.

Names and nicknames

Melissa De La Cruz

Customer Care Service Representative Melissa De La Cruz, who voted for Michael and Lisa, said her parents also picked her name because they thought it sounded “pretty” – and she has a nickname that only her family uses, Missy.

Joe Apostol (front right) and Joe Wahler (front left) have a popular traditionally male name

Chief Lineworker Joe Apostol, who picked Joe and Jennifer, has good reason for his “J” focus. Ask Apostol about his name story and you’ll learn he has a twin brother, John, born first and named after his father, a wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Jackie and Jessica. Apostol, who is Filipino, said he never thought much about names, their cultural significance or whether they influence a person – he just lives to “do the right thing and try to be a humble, good person.”

Shaping identity

Janeen Johnson and family

Manager of Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion Janeen Johnson, on the other hand, has thought a lot about names. Although raised as an African-American Christian, Johnson said that after her mom told her she was specific about the meaning and spelling of her name, stemming from Hebrew and meaning “God’s gracious gift,” Johnson paid more attention to the Old Testament and, “those stories came alive to me and helped form my identity.”

Johnson selected meaningful names for her children, and even started a tradition of giving them African names at their 16th birthdays, with the first name reflecting a character trait they hold and the second – a trait their parents want them to have. Her eldest son, Robert Houston, who received his name at an older age as part of her blended family, is Camau Adisa, or “quiet warrior who sees clearly.” Her only daughter, Ashley Janea’s African name is Candaca Yejede, or “queen, in the image of her mother.” Her son, Trey Fulton, is Chidike Janga, or “God is strong – you cannot shake me.” Her youngest son, Terryll Fulton, is Cani Inotu, or “strength in humility so as not to offend the combined strength of my family.”

“Their African names all start with a ‘C’ because that letter starts in the heavens and comes to earth pointing up, to remind them that they are spiritual beings having an earthly experience,” Johnson said.

A rare find

With over 12,000 PSEG employees, we have the traditionally most common names and extremely rare names, including those from Greek, Indian, Nordic and other folklore. For instance, we have a Thor, a Venus and an Achilles – a name, according to the genealogy website Forebears.io, that less than 7,000 people have in only 10 nations worldwide.

Achilles Kotzias

“As to how I was named, my Greek-speaking Cypriot father used a traditional family naming convention for both of my older siblings, so my Chinese mother had free reign for my younger brother’s and my name. And her words on the subject were, ‘I liked it,’” said Achilles Kotzias, a construction specialist in Inside Plant Construction. “Emotionally, my name has always been there with me, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

Although one random time in school, teachers and students alike started mispronouncing his name in the same way. He discovered that someone often called “the worst Wheel of Fortune player ever” misread, “Mythological Hero Achilles,” in a solve attempt, hence the teasing.

Most common

Corporate Communication’s Michael Jennings said he remembers his school days well when there were so many Michaels that his second grade teacher would only call them by their middle names.

While the most common name in the world, if you include all of its variations, is Mohammed, or without variations, Maria, in the United States, it has often been Michael. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, Michael was #1 between 1954 and 1998 (only to drop second to David in 1960), was #2 from 1999 to 2008 and didn’t fall out of the top 5 until 2011.

As for 2021, the most popular U.S. baby names were Liam and Olivia. The year Public Service was founded, in 1903? John and Mary.

Lauren Ugorji, Lead Writer - PSE&G

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